Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

A mansion makeover with a lot of question marks

Plus, how we’re tracking more than $100 million in opioid settlement money in Pa.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

March 28, 2024 | spotlightpa.org

A pricey design firm has been hired to renovate Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's official state residence in Harrisburg. But no one will say who is managing the project, raising money for it, or exactly who is paying for it, Spotlight PA's Angela Couloumbis reports.

Also this week, Spotlight PA and Pittsburgh public radio's WESA have teamed up to track how Pennsylvania counties are spending their shares of more than $100 million in opioid settlement money amid related disagreements and confusion.

Finally, Shapiro is proposing a Pennsylvania-based alternative to a cap-and-trade plan to fight climate change and boost renewable energy standards. The Democrat is seeking GOP support from a state Senate that has long resisted restricting the oil and gas industry.

TRUSTING ELECTIONS: Join us on Tuesday, April 2, at 6 p.m. ET on Zoom for a live Q&A with Al Schmidt, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of State. Register for the event here and submit your questions here or to events@spotlightpa.org.


» Your guide to the primary candidates for treasurer

» Penn Highlands Elk maternal care cuts highlight Pa.’s widening rural services gap

» Recount petitions could impede Pa.’s efforts to certify 2024 election by new federal deadline

» ‘Dark money’ groups would be forced to disclose how they spend on Pa.’s elections under advancing bill

How we’re tracking more than $100M in opioid settlement money in Pa.

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania most of my life. But I’m still surprised at one thing: There are so many counties that start with the letter B or C!

Bedford and Butler, and Cameron and Cumberland, and on and on. There are 18 in all, out of 67.

That may not seem like a lot, but when you’re filing Right-to-Know requests with every county in the state, it can feel like you’re stuck in the Bs and Cs forever.

The reason I — along with Kate Giammarise of WESA — filed all these public records requests last week was to get new insight into how Pennsylvania counties decided to spend the more than $100 million they received in the first rounds of opioid settlement payments. 

As we’ve reported before, members of a state oversight board plan to review these spending reports in secret before making recommendations for the full board to consider. 

Board members have the power to withhold and ultimately cut funding from counties if they decide they spent money inappropriately. Tom VanKirk, chair of the Pennsylvania Opioid Misuse and Addiction Abatement Trust, said in February that the board plans to make spending information public “when we’ve had a chance to vote on it.”

We thought the public deserved to know how counties spent the money before the trust votes on whether it was appropriate. Hence all the public records requests, and all the time spent thinking about Bradford and Berks, and Carbon and Centre, and all the rest.

We’re still analyzing the records, but in the initial days, we received about three dozen spending reports. We made them available online so that residents of those communities, other reporters, treatment and harm reduction advocates, and anyone else can review them.

“Smart use of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law,” wrote Erik Arneson, a former executive director of the state’s Office of Open Records.

A few counties gave us an interesting reason for why they couldn’t provide the final spending reports: They didn’t have them. 

Wayne County open records officer Andrew Seder sent us the county’s draft report, but said that when the county submitted the final report to the trust, officials “weren’t able to print the PDF and have no copy of that submission in our possession.”

“If we are able to get that copy from the trust within the 30 days we will send your way,” Seder wrote to me.

We’ll be updating our database on a regular basis over the next few weeks. If you see anything interesting — or if you’ve visited every county that starts with the letter B or C — drop me a line at emahon@spotlightpa.org or 717-421-2518. Ed Mahon, Spotlight PA 

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Truth Social’s billionaire ties, Oscar winner’s coal project, and a third party
» AP: Lawmakers push to find out causes of death for older adults

» BEAVER COUNTY TIMES: Pitt will study derailment health impacts

» CAP-STAR: Automatic voter registration lawsuit dismissed

» DAILY ITEM: Bill would open election disruptors to civil liability

» GUARDIAN: On the election front lines in Luzerne County

» INQUIRER: Philly City Council sued over a bill to ban skill games

» NY TIMES: Jeff Yass owned shares in Trump media merger partner

» REUTERS: Crypto co. hit with lawsuit over pollution from bitcoin mine

» USA TODAY: GOP at odds over critical mail voting measures

Spotlight PA’s “All Sun, No Shade” beach towel is selling fast! This is a limited-edition item — once supplies run out, it won't be available again! So place your order ASAP!

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

TRANSFORMER (Case No. 249): The name of what animal becomes the name of a bird when you change the first letter from M to G? 

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: 4,100. Find last week's clue here

Congrats to Janice R., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Lynda G., Jude M., Annette I., Mary B., Karen G., Harriet Z., Beverly F., Peter S., Judith A., Norman S., Justine B., Alan B., Beth T., Kathy M., James D., Michael H., Bruce B., Bill B., Debbie M., Trish B., Fred O., Johnny C., David M., Bill G., Dennis F., Denise B., Rena Z., Cosette J., Leann T., and Seth Z.
Like The Investigator? Share it with a friend.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan & nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © Spotlight PA. All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
PO Box 11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

You're receiving this email because you signed up for The Investigator. 

Receiving too many emails from Spotlight PA?

To change your newsletter subscriptions and frequency, you can update your preferences.

To stop receiving fundraising messages, you can update your preferences and select "Opt out of Fundraising."

To stop receiving ALL EMAILS from Spotlight PA, including all of our investigations and newsletters, you can completely unsubscribe here.